Given that Public Forum heavily emphasizes persuasion, it makes sense to discuss some classical viewpoints on how audiences are persuaded. The Greek philosopher Aristotle is famous for his three rhetorical modes of persuasion--ethos, logos, and pathos. These terms may have been heard before. If not, do not worry. Time will be spent defining and describing each one, and then we will discuss how to apply them to Public Forum. This article will deal with ethos.

What Is Ethos?

From a strictly definitional standpoint, ethos is the Greek work from which the English word ethics is derived from. The word ethics probably provides a good hint as to what will be discussed. Aristotle’s view of ethos is somewhat expanded compared to the traditional definition. Ethics does play a role, but for our purposes, we will define ethos as the following:

In rhetoric, ethos is an appeal to the authority, honesty, and good-will of the speaker. It is used to establish the audience’s trust in the speaker’s integrity and qualifications.

To convey ethos, speakers must prove two things. First, they must establish that they are qualified to speak on a position. They must prove that their authority to speak is legitimate and not contrived. Second, they must prove that their intentions are wholesome and their motives are pure. (In other words, why are they taking their position? Do they legitimately believe the stance they are taking would be beneficial?)

How to Apply Ethos to Public Forum

Two relevant matters must be addressed. First, how can debaters articulate that they are qualified to speak on a matter? This seems like a tough predicament at first. “Qualified” speakers are typically people who are experts in their field and very, very experienced at what they do. High school students, unfortunately, simply do not possess the expertise and credibility that topic experts do. Ask a random kid in the hallway what they think of a proposition and 90% of the time their ideas are probably uninformed or illogical. (The other 10% are debaters. Obviously.)

The qualifications of the speaker in Public Forum therefore must be introduced via proxy. A proxy is someone who is appointed or directed to speak for another person. In the case of debate, proxies are used all the time in fact. They come in the form of evidence authors. High school students do not possess credibility. The topic experts they cite, on the other hand, hold vast amounts of credibility.

Public Forum is by nature supposed to be a non-intensive format when it comes to evidence. As a result, what evidence is read should incorporate ethos via proxy. Take the time to explain the credentials of authors. Articulate to the judge how one’s own arguments--even the analytics--are ultimately derived from topic experts with extensive experience. Establish the authority of personal position by establishing the authority of authors. And of course, take this further by pointing out that the opponents lack the sort of credibility one’s authors possess. Perhaps their evidence was drawn from blogs or short newspaper clippings rather than from peer-reviewed journals and scholarly books (hint: that is where evidence should come from).

Now of course, that only resolves half of our idea of ethos. The second portion of ethos involves establishing goodwill. This can get tricky since in Public Forum a debater may be asked to take the side of a proposition that they do not personally agree with. Is there anything a debater can do about their own personal misgivings? Certainly. Learn to detach oneself from the ramifications of arguments. As long as they are morally sound, there is nothing wrong with playing devil’s advocate once in awhile.

The other, less visible part of ethos is simply being honest. Do not cheat, do not clip cards, and never take the authors’ arguments out of context. Do all of these things to properly use ethos.